Saturday, April 22, 2017

City Council, April 24th - Three Letter Problems: TNCs and IGAs

Council meets on Monday and in three-letter acronyms the future of transportation is front and center.

Our propensity to be seduced by shiny tech utopianism
(unknown source)
The Public Hearing for ride-booking regulations is on the agenda, and right now the case against them is much stronger than for them.

Earlier this month we saw a study from Denver that found they added congestion and cannibalized transit. The same is happening in New York City.

From Unsustainable? The Growth of App-Based Ride Services and Traffic, Travel and the Future of New York City. It's about Manhattan, of course, but Salem is really only quantitatively different, not qualitatively so. You may say "but Salem's not like a big city" and you will be right of course, but we are facing smaller versions of many of these same problems and are likely to face more of them in the future.
TNCs are fundamentally undoing the traditional cost incentives to use public transit....

As they steadily cut fares, TNCs are beginning to erase these longstanding financial disincentives [taxi and parking pricing] for traveling by motor vehicle in Manhattan. TNC fare offerings such as $5 flat rates for shared trips during rush hour in Manhattan put TNC fares at less than twice the transit fare, dramatically weakening the disincentive to travel by auto. Their attractive pricing will be a boon to patrons only until traffic congestion becomes insufferable -- for them and also for freight carriers, bus riders, cyclists and the city's economy.

Whether these fares are sustainable or even yield a profit is unclear. But for the foreseeable future, TNC fares will cover no more than the costs borne directly by drivers and TNC companies (e.g., drivers' time, costs of vehicles, auto insurance and dispatch systems). TNC fares do not reflect the costs to the public in congestion delay and emissions. These costs should be added to TNC operational costs in order to incentivize efficient use of scarce street space.

Road pricing is not a politically easy topic, as vividly illustrated by the intense controversy that surrounded Mayor Bloomberg's ultimately unsuccessful 2007 proposal for a cordon-based charge to enter the Manhattan CBD. But if TNC growth continues at current rates, fueled by low fares, the necessity of some type of road pricing will become more and more evident....
So do we need a summary for why skepticism on TNCs is still necessary and prudent?
  1. TNCs are driving an increase in congestion in NYC and are cannibalizing transit there (this post)
  2. TNCs are doing the same in Denver
  3. Cherriots' consultant Jarrett Walker warns, Sounding the Alarm about Uber’s Impacts on Transit, and on Cities 
  4. TNCs are not healthy competition, and use underpricing in a play to drive out transit and taxi and other transportation options, "with passengers on average only paying 41 percent of the actual cost of a trip." 
  5. Portland's mad at TNCs - "'they ran over regulators and consumers, and after we established basic community standards they tried to do an end run around the city in Salem,' says City Commissioner Nick Fish. 'They are chronic bad actors.'"
  6. In an earlier official City of Portland Statement, "Mayor Ted Wheeler is reaching out to mayors across Oregon and the country regarding recent reports that Uber used the Greyball tool to evade authorities in order to operate in locations where Uber service was resisted or banned."
  7. TNCs use drivers as lab rats
  8. The Washington Post says "Uber hires Eric Holder to investigate sexual harassment claims"
  9. The New York Times observes "How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide"
  10. San Francisco Chronicle, "Uber’s self-driving cars stay on SF roads, defying city and DMV"
  11. National Bureau of Economic Research, "Racial and Gender Discrimination in Transportation Network Companies"
  12. Former NYC Commissioner of Transportation on refusal to share data: "Uber last week: NYC drop dead, you'll never get our trip data!" 
You might be able to provide more - the contractor/employee debate is not touched on here, for example. While TNCs might be attractive to some people personally, especially because of the temporary underpricing, a municipal policy in support of them has many more unattractive or outright deleterious consequences. If you prize personal "liberty," consequences to the commons be damned, TNCs will seem like a great boon; but if you evaluate the social and communal costs of them, right now they don't seem like such a very good deal. TNCs right now might be popular, but as they themselves want to be regulated, they are bad policy. (For all posts on TNCs, see here.)

That IGA

The proposed Intergovernmenal Agreement on the Salem River Crossing remains perplexing. (More on the IGA here and here from back in January when it was announced.)

N3B has taken a full-court press in opposition to it. As a way to rally the troops it may have symbolic utility. But as a substantive proposal, it may be less effective. I don't want to say that N3B is wrong for sure, as it is not possible to know with certainty, but their position on this may have unwanted consequences.

 Let's game out a simplified grid of outcomes:
  1. Council rejects the IGA, LUBA remands the appeal: Something of a do-over, at least for the land-use matters
  2. Council ratifies the IGA, LUBA remands the appeal: Basically the same as #1
  3. Council rejects the IGA, LUBA rejects the appeal and sides with the City: FULL STEAM AHEAD
  4. Council ratifies the IGA, LUBA rejects the appeal: Moderate checks provided by the IGA
Ratifying the IGA causes no harm. Considered only as substantive policy apart from any symbolic value it might have, there is no reason to oppose it. "Can't hurt, might help."

It is the appeal at LUBA that will do the heavy lifting and make for effective action in a critique of the SRC.

But in one one situation, Outcome #3, when LUBA rejects the appeal and affirms the City's decision, and City Council also rejects the IGA, the combination is a minor disaster. In this case, the City and ODOT encounter no more checks on the SRC process and the Record of Decision can proceed to finality unimpeded.

If your goal is to stop the SRC, rejecting the IGA depends on LUBA remanding the appeal and finding against the City. And then if LUBA doesn't find against the City, there are fewer options without the IGA.

So it's still not clear why N3B opposes the IGA so strongly. It seems counter-productive, even. It is a tactically appealing maneuver in a Pyrrhic Victory that may be bad strategy as its defeat allows for the larger bridge.

In the end it may not matter. The Legislature, for example, is considering a scheme that might provide funding for a bridge, and the bridge is at the moment assigned a window of "10-15 years." This falls just outside of the ten year scope of the IGA. The operative time of the IGA may be largely moot and the IGA therefore an empty agreement, more for show than a real framework for any action.

But even a formalized delay of a decade has some value, and it seems like we should not just throw it away. By making the agreement, DLCD took themselves out of the case at LUBA and really just sidelined themselves. Rejecting the IGA does not bring DLCD back into the appeal at LUBA or reactivate DLCD as critics of the process in this set of decision points. There are just no apparent benefits to rejecting the IGA.

Maybe at the Council meeting more will come out about the IGA, and some or all of this will turn out to be wrong, but at the moment rejecting it seems unwise. Even as a flawed and limited check on the SRC, it has some value.

Other Matters

There are a couple of housing things also on the agenda.

The "2017-2018 Housing and Community Development Annual Action Plan" is up for approval and CANDO has posted substantial comment on it.
In this year’s Plan, the City has attempted to address the concern expressed in our Comment on last year’s Plan about the lack of specificity regarding its efforts to coordinate the community response to its housing/homeless problems. This additional information is helpful and necessary to citizens wishing to understand the actions that are being taken on their behalf in this area. But, the question remains whether or not these efforts are sufficient to address the problems in Salem’s homeless services delivery system, considering the resources the City has available to it.
If you are interested in homelessess, that post and their entire series on local initiatives and committees is worth reading.

A text search of the Action Plan itself turned up no instances of "transit" or "bus" or "Cherriots," and only one instance of "transportation."

As we talk more about affordable housing, the transportation burden and compulsory autoism entailed by housing remote from grocery stores, transit, and employment centers needs to get more attention. What we give people in lower rents may be partially taken away by increased transportation costs and time.

Also on the agenda is adjusting the zoning code to allow for housing at Yaquina Hall. Apparently this requires changing allowed uses on all of the land zoned "Public and Private Health Services," not just the tax lot on which Yaquina sits. That's a sledgehammer for a single nail! This is more evidence that our current approach to zoning is not adequately responsive to modern needs. A form-based code would not have this problem, for example.

Strong Towns also has a timely note about "the high, high price of affordable housing." The Yaquina Hall project will cost about $10 million, I think, for 50 units. That's $200,000 a unit or so. 50 units is a drop in the bucket of total need, and at that price, including subsidies, it's very difficult to scale up a meaningful supply.


Jim Scheppke said...

There is a flaw in your thinking here when you say this: "Council rejects the IGA, LUBA rejects the appeal and sides with the City: FULL STEAM AHEAD." The contention here is that DLCD would do nothing if they got stiffed on the IGA. You can't assume that. They appealed the City Council's land use actions because they had very serious objections. While it is too late for them to jump back into the LUBA appeal, they have other means by which they could impede the progress of the Salem River Crossing project.

But more fundamentally, you are overthinking this. It's not a chess game. Fundamentally, the vote on the IGA is a decision by the new council about whether to continue to move forward with the 3rd Bridge. If they approve the IGA, they are upholding the decision of the old council and voting for continued implementation work by city staff. If the new council has a different opinion or wants to reconsider that decision, now is the time to speak up. The clearest way to send that message is to say "no" to the IGA. At the very least, the Council should put off whole thing until the LUBA appeal is decided.

Anonymous said...

Here's another one for your TNC list...

"For months, Mr. Kalanick had pulled a fast one on Apple by directing his employees to help camouflage the ride-hailing app from Apple’s engineers. The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had secretly been tracking iPhones even after its app had been deleted from the devices, violating Apple’s privacy guidelines....

In a quest to build Uber into the world’s dominant ride-hailing entity, Mr. Kalanick has openly disregarded many rules and norms, backing down only when caught or cornered. He has flouted transportation and safety regulations, bucked against entrenched competitors and capitalized on legal loopholes and gray areas to gain a business advantage...."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Jim could be right, and I hope Council - the five member subset anyway - has a plan for unwinding the SRC.

In the mean time, it's certainly true the IGA as the Staff Report construes it is feeble, even nugatory - "we don't have to change a thing! we're already doing it!":

"the IGA does not commit the City to use congestion pricing or tolling on the new bridge, nor does the IGA contemplate that either congestion pricing or tolling will be used on the existing bridges....

The City and the Urban Renewal Agency already have policies and Urban Renewal Area (URA) plan projects in place to encourage residential development in the City’s core area and within the West Salem Urban Renewal Area....

The IGA requires the City to allocate a minimum of approximately 20 percent of the next transportation bond toward these improvements. Transportation bond measures approved by the voters in Salem over the last 20 years have included at least this percentage of bicycle and pedestrian projects

The Staff Report goes out of its way to describe the toothlessness of the IGA. It ratifies business as usual for the City and calls for no real change or compromise.

(Though a part of that depends on whether you include "urban upgrades" with auto lane expansion in addition to a side order of bike lanes and sidewalks as a "bicycle and pedestrian project. If you just count the portion of sidewalks and bike lanes, and not the auto travel lane expansion, the total is smaller.)


thanks also for the NYT citation!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It's worth a footnote, and I should have thought of this earlier, but the proposed zoning changes for shelters also illustrate problems with our current zoning scheme:

"The current requirement for a conditional use permit with public notice and a hearing results in the location of the shelter being disclosed to the public. Public disclosure of a domestic violence shelter can compromise the safety of victims fleeing unsafe situations. The proposed amendments allow domestic violence shelters with 10 or fewer people to locate in residential and commercial zones as an outright permitted use, avoiding the publicity of a conditional use permit hearing."

With a form-based code, again, this sort of thing would not require hearings or code amendments.